Minutes before the show went live, NIC student, Michael Gray, nervously awaited his opportunity to speak out about a topic he can relate to on a deeply personal level.
On Thursday, Idaho Legislatures in Boise would vote on whether to add the words “sexual orientation” and “gender identity” to Idaho’s Human Rights Act. Gray thought he was there to take notes, but just a few minutes before the show began, he was told he would get to speak on the issue that meant so much to him.
“I was so nervous,” Gray said.
Of course, many Idahoans of various sexual orientations support the bill, but for Gray, being bisexual himself, this vote could only be taken personally.
“I want protection in my job so I don’t have to lie to people at my workplace,” Gray said.
The radio show, OUTspoken Spokane, invited Gender Sexuality Alliance club officers Gray, Lauren Merlino, and Lindsey Shaw, to speak on the topic of job discrimination, specifically in the context of the “Add the Words” bill that would be debated in Boise in a few days.
The bill would make it illegal to discriminate against people based on their sexual orientation or gender identity in terms of housing, employment, and education.
“I want everyone to be able to be a part of their community as equal members,” said GSA club president, Lauren Merlino, “and until that happens, I’m going to fight for the right to be a first class citizen.”
Merlino said that the focus of the club’s time on the show was to encourage the Spokane community to get involved with politics in Idaho, but mostly to talk about why adding the words “sexual orientation” and “gender identity” should be included in the Human Rights Act.
“‘Add the Words’ is not about forcing people to be nice to the LGBT community,” Merlino said. “It’s about making it illegal for someone to discriminate against us and deny us services. We all deserve to be judged based on the merits of our work; not our identity.”
Gray said that it’s hard enough to find a job as it is, without being discriminated against for being bisexual.
“I don’t think it’s fair to be treated as a second class citizen, because we [the LGBT community] are allowed to get married, but we’re not protected on the Human Rights bill against getting jobs and stuff,” Gray said.
“Add the Words” YouTube videos and Facebook pages have helped spread the word in recent years about the controversial bill, though the movement existed years before it went viral. This is the first time the movement has been granted a hearing, where citizens can share testimonies of their experiences of discrimination.
Lindsey Shaw, Vice President of GSA, identifies as straight, and considers herself an ally to the LGBT community. She said that after giving a report about the community, she began to notice rampant bullying and suicide against and among LGBT individuals.
“I can’t imagine how my friends are feeling, because this is them,” Shaw said. “I’m a straight female and I don’t have to deal with this discrimination like they do.”
“Everybody’s human and that’s what makes me so sad is that people don’t treat them [the LGBT community] equally, like me. I don’t want to be on a higher scale than the people that I love that are such great people, because in my eyes, they are equal to me.”
As of Thursday, that level of equality has legally not been attained yet in the state of Idaho.
The bill was rejected in a 13-4 party-line vote.
It’s a painful message that our state is not willing to consider us the same level citizens as everyone else,” Merlino said. “I am not a second class citizen.”
Cindy Gross, Chair of Add The Words, said that despite the fact that some members of the legislature are committed to showing more compassion, it’s not enough. The organization will continue to work until all Idahoans are protected.
“With these powerful stories, our legislators can no longer claim that there isn’t discrimination in Idaho,” Gross said in a press release.
The GSA club meets every Thursday at 12 p.m. in the Powderhorn Bay room at the lower level of the Student Union Building. Anyone interested is invited to join. For more information, email Lindsey Shaw at firstname.lastname@example.org.
“We are still active and strong,” Merlino said. “The ‘Add the Words’ movement it far from over. More than anything, we’ve gained publicity. If we’ve affected the hearts of our representatives, the next goal is to change their minds to vote ‘yes’. The real goal is to find other Idahoans who agree that equality is right for everyone.”